A Call to Love America

 

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A wall in my patriotic foyer

I have been largely silent with my blog for several weeks for two large reasons. It’s report card and report card conference time and my primary work by necessity takes priority over working on my fourth novel, my writing life in general, and basically all other areas of my life. This is nothing new, there are known stretches in a teacher’s year where the work of an educator overshadows everything.

The second reason, however, has been eating away at me. As a writer, I naturally turn to express myself with my pen, or in modern terms my keyboard. I have been bothered by so much that has happened in our country over the recent past and in particular the lack of civility in our political discourse. Yet I don’t wish to write a political piece and if you read on, I hope you will agree with me that this is indeed a bi-partisan expression, rather than a taking of sides.

I grew u in a military family and being patriotic, loving our country and being emotionally stirred by our anthem, flag and taps played on Post in the evening was not something reserved for a few holidays each year, but part of our daily living. I remember as a teenager being upset when my daddy retired, albeit partly because my parents wanted me to be able to complete high school in one place. If he wasn’t an army officer anymore, then who were we as a family?

I think it took until after college for me to identify as an American civilian and yet I still chose to serve my country as a public school teacher. All my years teaching I have led students each morning in the saying of the pledge, indoctrinating them into this basic exercise of patriotism and hopefully conveying a respect and reverence for our great nation.

The lens I view America in is influenced by our family’s years in military service, my college educated parents and the financial security we lived in and I realize that my experience is not the same of many of my fellow Americans who have experienced much more difficult paths simply because of the color of their skin, their religion, or even their economic status. Yet so many of these fellow Americans love America just as I do and some possibly more, as they have had to have much more faith in that American dream that my experience had somewhat taken for granted.

I have a bachelors and a Master’s degree and my bachelor’s degree is in political science, I love history and government, but one thing I learned in studying our political history is that there has always been an ugly side to it. Even our founding fathers were subject to slander and mocking words and cartoons. There have been periods in time when lines have been crossed and extremists have taken devastating and illegal steps, think John Wilkes Booth. But it seems that in these modern times it has reached beyond the public political figures to private citizens, opposing sides claiming the opposition is somehow evil and that we should not tolerate people who are different from ourselves. To say it’s disturbing is an understatement in my opinion.

So what is a patriot, a lover of America to do?  I would say turn away from the two dark paths of vitriolic rhetoric from the left and the right and chose the illuminated path in the middle, have civil discourse on issues, keep the focus on issues, have a basic respect and empathy for all human beings. Work to solve problems rather than just assign blame regardless of whether it is well-founded or not. It would be nice if this could be exemplified from the leadership of our country top down, but if the last couple of years are any indicator, I think that is unlikely to happen.

But here is one of the great things about America, we as a people, from the ground up are quite powerful in bringing about change. We were formed by a revolution, we have changed the conditions in this country, not just by passing laws, but by movements that brought women the right to vote, improved conditions for workers, and civil rights. Who says we can’t do it again. If we as a society reject incivility and ugly rhetoric, if we as a society focus on our shared love of country and a mutual respect for fellow human beings we can bring about the change.

While I have no intention of leading a national movement, I know that choices I make in my daily life on how I treat others can have a ripple effect with all I come in contact with. If enough of us do it the kindness will grow and swell until those at the top will be influenced to change their ways.

So I’m using my small little blog that is usually about southern life and how that influences the writing of my novels to advocate for an issue that is dear to my heart and too important to ignore.

LOVE America! Love it enough to choose love over hate.

 

 

Reflections at a Wedding

 

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The Gadsen House in Charleston, South Carolina

I went to a wedding Friday night, after a long day of a long week and dare I say one of the craziest in the political realm of our country and frankly I was exhausted. I rushed home from work to go from teacher causal Friday (jeans and spirit wear) to hot rolling my hair (although with the high humidity, not sure why I bothered) and semi-formal wear.

In the novel I’m currently working on I have a wedding scene to write and was anticipating that this event would inspire.  I was not disappointed, but I was surprised at what provided the most inspiration.

As expected a Charleston wedding set in a historical house and courtyard provided a beautiful setting, At times it felt fairy tale like, with the string lights, candles and uplighting in the courtyard. The food was outstanding, particularly the jumbo fried shrimp wrapped in bacon and the fried green tomato bites at the cocktail hour. There were three food stations for the dinner, the shrimp and grits being my favorite. The music from a strings group prior and during the ceremony to a DJ who played a wide range of music, from Patsy Cline and Frank Sinatra during dinner to crowd favorites like the Cuban Shuffle during the dance party.  The timetable for the first dance and dances with parents to the tossing of the bouquet and the sparkler send-off of the newly minted couple was impeccable, truly a beautiful and well-run wedding.

Yes all the above was more than enough to mine for inspiration, but what I found most impactful was the true love and respect that brought these two youngsters (I can call them that because I have known the groom since he was a pre-schooler and I taught the bride and her sister when they were in the first grade) to the altar and to vow a life-long contract with each other. They have been a “couple” since middle school, friends first, growing into a teenage romance and blossoming into a love that will carry them to old age. I truly got the feeling that even though they were surrounded by the beauty of a traditional Charleston wedding, if they were exchanging their vows in concrete windowless room, it would have been just as beautiful.

The ugliness of the past week in our nation’s narrative dissipated from my mind and reminded me that love and respect can trump hate and intolerance. This couple will build a life together, and I’m sure that there will be days that will be ugly, either between them or from outside forces, but I have no doubt they can persevere, grow stronger and move into a more harmonious time in their journey.

I want to believe that about our country too. We are in an ugly time, but can we move forward with compassion and love for our fellow citizens, even when we don’t agree on something? Can we see the bigger picture, that this is a piece of our history we can learn from, grow stronger and become better?  I still believe the answer is yes!

I may be in the minority in that I am more moderate and centrist than the so-called left and right, but like the bride and the groom who met in the middle and then walked down the center aisle together, I want to see our politicians do the same for the betterment of our country. I want to see the one-hundred senators, get back to a place where they set the example of respect, principles, and morality. Then perhaps other branches of government can follow suit and who knows maybe society in general.

As part of the ceremony, the officiant reminded us that we are more than just witnesses to the covenant made between this bride and groom, but we have a responsibility to lift them up, encourage and support them in this life-long covenant.

I would say the same thing is required of each and every American. Not to just offer partisan support at the polls, but to know our constitution, now how our system of government is designed to work and hold our elected officials accountable to follow the rules, do so with compassion and use their power to fix the injustices so we can form a more perfect union. I would dare to say, listen to the other side of the argument respectfully, encourage sides to compromise into legislation that will not be in peril when the other side gains majority, but that can withstand the test of time because it improves our country and was reached together, so both sides have a hand in it.

I know, this sounds almost fairytale-like, but it doesn’t have to be. Besides, I just went to a beautiful wedding, I can’t help but be optimistic.

 

From Scribbler To Writer

 

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Me at around age 2 or 3

My Daddy has been taking a large collection of slides and changing them into digital photo files. I’m sure those born after 1975 are probably scratching their heads as to what a slide is. I used to love when we would set up the screen and the projector with a loaded carousel and click our way down memory lane.

Daddy emailed this picture to me and I saw my teacher-self and my writer-self in their incubator stage.  How excited I was to be writing with chalk, another instrument of the past. As a leftie, I struggled with proper penmanship for years, but I would enthusiastically write and draw despite the legibility.

Fast forward to the world we are in today and I really worry about the current generation of young children who spend too much time on electronic devices and not enough with paper, or boards and writing tools. There is a lack of fine motor development and literacy development that is becoming a growing problem. Scribbling is such an important part of brain, motor and literacy development and children need to time to do it.

I have a passion for writing, but I also had a childhood rich in literature and ample opportunity to write at many developmental stages. I wonder if subsequent generations will be as literate as those of us who came before them. What will society and humanity lose if they are not?

If I could speak directly to parents of pre-schoolers I would preach to them to shut off the devices, visit the library, set up a dry erase board and get a pile of scrap paper and immerse their children in literacy. It will ensure a richer future for their child and also make their school experience more successful.

I believe that what elevates a culture, what keeps a culture going is its arts and literature and I fear America is falling short compared to our European counterparts. As a first-grade teacher, I view the two most important parts of my job are to turn students into readers and that they develop a love for reading and writing that will stay with them for a lifetime. As a writer, of course, I want people to buy my books, but I also love that my books are in libraries, because most of all I want people to read and enjoy my stories.

My passion for books, reading them and writing them is my soapbox and I could go on for days about the virtues of both. It was nice that this vintage photo slide reminded me that passion is deeply rooted in my beginnings.

 

 

Replacing What’s Rotten

 

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My handiwork…

I discovered that a few sections of the back fence were rotting. The boards disintegrating with a touch, despite the fact they looked perfectly fine from a distance.  It’s mostly my fault. I had been trowing yard debris over to the wooded area of my property thinking I was composting Mother Nature’s way. Unfortunately, most of my pitches had landed too close to the boards and over time a layer of dirt and debris had sat up against the boards causing the rot.

So I have begun the replacement process, thirty-seven down and twelve to go to address the most critical areas. There will be more in the future for those not so critical this moment and the fact I could not get a matching style unless I bought boards that would require me to cut off two feet from each board, which seemed a bit wasteful to me.

As I pried out nails and knocked out rotting boards I had plenty of time to reflect. True to the nature of my mind I saw a life lesson in my current task. Rot is not just a condition for wood. It is a condition of life. If we don’t maintain, refresh or even replace what’s rotten in our personal lives and in our society, then it will decay and fall apart.

Do you have a toxic, read rotten, relationship that is holding you back? Are you uninspired in your work life? Is your diet fresh? Do you maintain yourself with exercise? Do you give your mind new ideas to ponder? Does our society need changes to make it better, stronger and safer for all?  Dare I say could Congress stand a removal of some rotten wood with replacements who are fresh and new?

I know I can identify several areas in my life I could use a refresh and in some instances a complete replacement. Like the new boards that I hammered in change can build a solid base for me to be stronger and last longer.

As I hauled the rotten broken boards to the curb I wished it was that easy with the rot in our society. I can only change society by the choices I make and the power of my vote and while that can make a difference I know it will take a collaborative effort.

In my own life, I can be more conscious of what might need replacing and choose to do so. After all who wants to just crumble away in decay?

Who knew there would be such an inspiring lesson in the mundane task of fence maintenance?

 

In Defense Of The Middle

 

Screen Shot 2018-02-10 at 3.58.51 PMI met a friend for coffee this morning and we got on the subject of how extreme our world seems to have become. I say seem because I like to think it’s just that those with extreme positions and opinions are the ones who are making the most noise.

I don’t care for heavy duty political debate, although I have my opinions, I try to keep them out of my relationships and I try to be respectful of the opinions of others even if I don’t agree. It can be challenging, but I think it is worth the effort to try and understand a differing point of view. That is what builds bridges of compassion and understanding.

Call me crazy but I’d like to see people get along and be productive. Always move forward and continue to make this world a better place, I believe that is our responsibility for the privilege of living this life.

The extremes have hijacked the media coverage and the social media platforms painting those with opposing views as evil or nefarious. Compromise has become a dirty word. Respect and manners have been lost, leaving civilization without its civility.

I shake my head sometimes and wonder if the young people of today will think this is how we should treat others. Will society continue to decay or will the next generation turn things back around to a society where respect, manners, and compassion dictate our interactions with others.

I like to think we won’t have to wait for the next generation. Those of us in the reasonable, moderate middle, who see both sides of an issue and can envision what a compromise might be, need a clarion call to reclaim the message. I believe there are more of us than those on the extreme ends, it’s the bell curve. We need to be loud enough in our demands to quiet the noise and move this world forward.

I’m not a revolutionary, I don’t wish to weigh in on political issues, but I’d like to turn on the news or read the newspaper or a newsfeed and see the reasonable people better represented. We are the bridge between the extremes and it’s time we stop shaking our heads mystified while the two sides batter the issues back and forth as if we are watching a tennis match.

I will not write my own opinions on specific issues, the world is flooded with enough of that, but I hope that more #reasonablepeople will start demanding compromise, compassion, and civility from those who make our laws, preach from their bully pulpits and hash out issues across the airways.

Maybe this Valentine’s Day we can bring a little love back to the world.

Stepping onto Hallowed Ground

 

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My first book in the new section at the Mount Pleasant, South Carolina library.

The library has always been a magical place to me. Where else can you travel the world or travel through time for free.  If I think about it, I am not really sure how come I didn’t become a librarian. School library or public library, growing up in a nomadic military family, no matter where we moved there was a library full of familiar friends and new ones waiting to be discovered.

Do you remember the wonderful albeit slightly musty smell of a library book. I loved writing my name on the card and I was a little sad when we went to electronic scanning. Although technology has made our libraries better able to serve our needs. I love how the libraries now can search for a book title on the computer and get it delivered to your branch even if it has to come from another state.

Libraries to me are hallowed ground. They are an important piece of the foundation that forms a great society. Any member of our community can use the resources of the library to expand their learning, grow in their understanding of others and discover the possibilities, all they have to do is walk in the doors. You can feed your soul with the classics or your favorite genres. You can go back in time or see the world from a completely different perspective just by the selections you make from the shelves.

I love to browse the shelves and discover authors and series. While I do try to buy quite a few books to support fellow authors I am so glad that purchasing is not the only access point for literature. Some things in life should be free, just part of basic human rights and I think access to literature is right up there with clean air and water.

So needless to say one of my goals as an author was to have my books in the library. What made the achievement of this goal all the sweeter was not knowing and having a friend discover my book there on the shelf of our local library. The joy I felt in that moment will carry me for months to come. I think all authors on some level have achievements in mind that are the benchmarks for success in their writing life. First is just getting your book published. Maybe you want to get your book available on audio books. Perhaps you want to be on the bestseller’s list. Maybe you want the literary critics to take notice and like your work.

I think all authors on some level have achievements in mind that are the benchmarks for success in their writing life. First is just getting your book published. Maybe you want to get your book available on audio books. Perhaps you want to be on the bestseller’s list. Maybe you want the literary critics to take notice and like your work.For me I want people to read and like my stories and feel connected to my characters. I would love to have someone like Reese Witherspoon be the voice for my audio versions and I want to see my books in the library.

Being in the library means more to me than any commercial success or recognition, although as I grow as an author, I hope those things might come. For now, I am more than content to be on the library’s hallowed ground.